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the Chameleon

edition #4
June, 2003


In this edition:


Career landmarks:

Grant Achievements:


Other news:



        New CRLC Members & Affiliates

        Profile: Bethwyn Evans


        forthcoming conferences

        CRLC Seminar Series 2003


        Courses offered 2003

Book Notices

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CRLC New Members & Affiliates:

Welcome to four new CRLC Members for 2003!

Kate Laffan, Honours Student (Linguistics), School of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts, ANU
e-mail: (full member)

Helen McLagan, Master of Linguistics Student, School of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts, ANU
e-mail: (full member)

Dr. Karl Rensch, Visiting Fellow, School of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts, ANU (full member)

Matthew Toulmin, PhD Student (Linguistics), School of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts, ANU
e-mail: (full member)

For a complete list of the current CRLC Members click here.


Career landmarks

Change of Position:

        Anthony Diller is now a temporary Visiting Fellow in the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology, La Trobe University, Melbourne, where he is presently working on the history of Thai serial verb constructions.

        Terry Crowley has been awarded a personal chair at the University of Waikato.

Grant achievements

Andrew Pawley & Malcolm Ross

Andrew Pawley and Malcolm Ross, members of the CRLC and of the Department of Linguistics in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University, have received a substantial grant from the Australian Research Council for the years 2003 to 2005 to enable them to pursue their project:

Proto Oceanic language, culture and environment: Foundations of the Austronesian settlement of the Pacific

The grant money will fund Bethwyn Evans as a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Meredith Osmond as continuing Research Assistant, in both cases for three years.

The goal of this project is the reconstruction of the vocabulary of Proto Oceanic, the language ancestral to most languages of the Pacific outside New Guinea. Reconstruction follows the terminological method, and is simultaneously a reconstruction of aspects of the culture of Proto Oceanic speakers. This culture was with reasonable certainty the culture which archaeologists label Lapita, and we are able to complement their work by reconstructing aspects of the culture to which archaeologists have less direct access.

The first of five planned volumes was published in 1998: The Lexicon of Proto Oceanic: The culture and environment of ancestral Oceanic society: Vol. 1 Material culture (, edited by Malcolm Ross, Andrew Pawley and Meredith Osmond. Future volumes will deal with the physical environment, flora and fauna, and human beings in their biological and intellectual dimensions. The final volume will provide detailed indexes, addenda, and grammatical notes.

Harold Koch

Harold Koch (School of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts, ANU and member of the CRLC) received a grant of A$10,000 from the Faculty Research Grants Scheme for a project: Reconstruction of Proto-Pama-Nyungan verb inflection, on which Pascale Jacq has been working as a Research Assistant.

Centenary Medals

We are pleased that several of our members were recognised by the Australian government for their service to Australian Society and the Humanities. The following Canberra members were awarded the Centenary Medal:

  • Cynthia Allen
  • Peter Bellwood
  • Anthony Diller
  • Luise Hercus
  • Ann Kumar
  • Isabel McBryde
  • Andrew Pawley
  • Malcolm Ross
  • Matthew Spriggs

The Centenary Medal, which was anounced by the Prime Minister on 28th December, 2001, is a commemorative medal awarded by the Governor-General to mark the achievements of a broad cross section of the Australian community at the commencement of the new century. Congratulations!

Other membership news

Michael Arbib (Professor of Neuroscience and Computer Science at the University of Southern California)

I have enjoyed a year free from teaching thanks to a Fellowship from the Center for Interdisciplinary Research at the University of Southern California and have used this opportunity to further explore my ideas on the evolution of the brain mechanisms that make it possible for humans to master languages whereas other creatures cannot (given a suitable characterization of human languages). A recent statement of my views:

Arbib, M.A., 2003, An Action-Oriented Neurolinguistic Framework for the Evolution of Protolanguage, revised version of a draft submitted for possible inclusion in the Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on the Evolution of Language, Harvard University, March 27-30, 2002, is available from the CRLC website (click here for a PDF version of this paper posted on the CRLC site). Comments would be most welcome from CRLC members.

A major point is to suggest that biological evolution equipped Homo sapiens with a “language-ready” brain, but that early Homo sapiens only had protolanguage (in the sense of a very simplified precursor of language), not language—and that those features which distinguish human languages from protolanguage (in this sense) are the result of the accumulation of historical inventions rather than of biological change.

Here’s the problem: All human languages we know of today (whether current or extinct) are modern—even pidgins and creoles are derived from modern languages in some fashion. Thus some historical linguists I have talked to tend to see the process of historical change as a mere “stirring around” of a pre-existing set of devices. I would like to hear arguments pro or con the alternative view that language represents the accumulation of different “inventions” and that we can make some attempt to hypothesize possible sequences of such inventions by analyzing smaller and larger language families and seeking to reconstruct protolanguages (now in the sense of a full human language ancestral to other languages) which demonstrate the emergence of novel inventions across the millennia.

For another take on what I am getting at, here is an adapted extract from my forthcoming commentary on the book “Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution” by Ray Jackendoff to appear in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences:

“Jackendoff’s discussion of evolution (Chapter 8) focuses on an incremental account of Universal Grammar (UG) that ignores brain evolution. Jackendoff (p.263) views UG as “the unlearned basis from which language is learned” and argues that “it had better be available to help children learn case systems, agreement systems, fixed word order, and grammatical functions in case the language in the environment happens to have them.” I find this view incoherent if it implies that evolution yielded adaptations specific to each of these systems. What selective pressure would cause humans whose language does not use cases to evolve a brain with a device specialized for learning case systems?! Instead, I think we should seek to understand what made the brain “language ready”, providing capacities that make possible the discovery of Jackendoff’s language “components” over the course of many millennia, and their acquisition by the child over the course of a few years.”

[The paper cited above provides a list of properties I believe are characteristic of language-readiness.]

“In hindsight we may see these properties as preadaptations for language but they were adaptive in their own right, and underlie many modern human capacities other than language. On this view, Universal Grammar is only tenable as a descriptive umbrella for the immense variety of human languages, not as a “genetic reality” or “neural reality” that implausibly contains all possible grammatical structures in embryo. I applaud Jackendoff’s attempt to provide an evolutionary sequence for language but argue that case systems, agreement systems, etc., are to be seen as human inventions that required no change in brain structure for their discovery and cultural transmission. Moreover, I see these as coarse grain compared to the actual inventions that were made across the millennia and which eventually coalesced into the more-or-less coherent structures that Jackendoff and other linguists tend to treat as natural and indivisible. What is universal is the need for expression, not the choice of linguistic structure for meeting those needs. The evolution of language from protolanguage is part of the history, not the biology, of Homo sapiens”.

Comments on the paper, or on any or all of the above comments, plus references to (or, even better, email attachments of) relevant work in comparative or historical linguistics would be most welcome when sent by email to:

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Language contact and language change

Paul Sidwell

The role of language contact in the processes of language change has been receiving more and more serious study in recent times. This is not to say that language contact was not always been appreciated as a cause or conditioning factor in change, but since the time of the neogrammarians there has been a strong emphasis on the priority of internal mechanisms. For example, in the strict application of the family tree model of linguistic diversification the branches of the tree never cross or even touch, enforcing a notion that the history of each language is not only unique, but self-sufficient. Grace (1985:6) makes this point with his remark that, “our professional paradigm seems to assume that most linguistic change is caused by conditions internal to the language itself”. Reflecting this, it is a simple matter to find in the literature of 20th century historical linguistics suggestions of externally motivated language change rejected outright because an internal path of development may be suggested.

Of course we all know that no language is an island—I seriously doubt that there is such a thing as an isolated language anywhere in the world, be it from daily neighbourly contact to the more or less relentless intrusion of new material and cultural products in our globalising world. The challenge is to examine specific cases in detail, considering all factors, internal, external and even extralinguistic (social) so that a typology of contact induced or conditioned change can be developed, and become part of the foundation of knowledge that informs our ongoing research efforts. Such research has borne rich fruit, and helped to revolutionise our understanding of language change processes, breathing new life and impetus into historical linguistics. A good example of such a case study is that of the Chamic languages.

Over the last 2000 years a fascinating story has unfolded in mainland Southeast Asia, as the Chams, ancient cousins of the Malays, settled on the Vietnamese Coast, and established a thriving kingdom that existed for more than a thousand years. Today the kingdom of Champa is gone, but Chamic languages are still spoken, and the really remarkable thing is that they have undergone such profound change that they no longer resemble Malay, but instead are so much like the surrounding Mon-Khmer tongues that some specialists have classified them as Mon-Khmer (e.g. Schmidt 1926). The word structure has changed from disyllabic to mono- or sesquisyllabic, vowel inventories have expanded considerably, including the introduction of length distinctions, and in addition to borrowing many Mon-Khmer words, prefixes and infixes have been taken into Chamic and applied to historically Malayic lexicon.

Over the years many arguments have been thrown back and forth, with some specialists (e.g. Shorto 1975) insisting that features such as the vowel length distinction cannot (on principle) be borrowed between languages, forcing an implausible revision of history that posits Chamic as the last mainland holdout of the Proto-Austronesians, rather than later settlers.

In his recent book, Thurgood (1999) shows convincingly that Proto-Chamic speakers borrowed heavily from their Mon-Khmer neighbours, bringing new sounds and combinations of sounds into their language, in the process effecting a typological remodeling. He concludes in part that it is language contact that sets change in motion and determined its path, while the role of language internal patterns was to impose constraints on the possible paths of historical change—constraints that earlier researchers took as causes of change.

This new emphasis on investigating and appreciating a broader range of factors in respect of the causes and paths of change is testimony to the vitality of the field and its capacity for progress, even as a relatively mature discipline, as a wealth of promising research lines continue to unfold.


Grace, George W, 1985. Oceanic subgrouping: retrospect and prospect. In Austronesian Linguistics at the 15th Pacific Science Congress. Pacific Linguistics C-88:1-81.

Schmidt, Prater Wilhelm. 1926. Die Sprachenfamilien und Sprachenkreise der Erde. 2 volumes. Heidelberg, Carl Winter.

Shorto, Harry, 1975. Acehnese and Mainland Austronesian. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 38:81-102.

Thurgood, Graham, 1999. From Ancient Cham to Modern Dialects: two thousand years of language contact and change. Honolulu, University of Hawai'i Press.

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Profile: Bethwyn Evans

In June I take up a postdoctoral position as part of the ARC-funded Oceanic Lexicon Project (see project description). Working with the chief investigators, Dr Malcolm Ross and Prof Andrew Pawley, and with the other researcher Meredith Osmond, I will be concentrating on the task of the reconstruction of verbal lexemes within particular semantic fields. As always with lexical reconstruction, the reconstruction of verbal lexemes for Proto Oceanic raises interesting questions concerning morphosyntactic and semantic change. This postdoctoral position enables me to continue my historical work on Oceanic languages which began with research for my Honours and PhD dissertations carried out at the ANU. My PhD thesis, A study of valency-changing devices in Proto Oceanic, is soon to be published by Pacific Linguistics in association with CRLC. This work examines valency-changing devices in Oceanic languages, and while concentrating on morphosyntactic reconstruction, shows the usefulness of lexical reconstruction in investigating the morphosyntactic history of languages.

Working within a project on Oceanic languages also provides me with the opportunity to continue the preliminary research begun in collaboration with Angela Terrill at the Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen. As part of the Pioneers of Island Melanesia project, Angela and I are investigating particular structural features shared by the Oceanic and Papuan languages in the north-west Solomon Islands. The Oceanic languages of island Melanesia are characterised by their linguistic diversity, which has often been attributed to contact between Oceanic speakers and speakers of Papuan languages. Angela and I wish to carry out more detailed research of these languages with respect to contact-induced change.

This postdoctoral position comes after a year or two of short-term and varied work. Just recently I have been teaching linguistic courses in the School of Language Studies (ANU), taking on the morphology course in 2002 and a pleasingly large class for the historical linguistics course this year. I have also had the opportunity to work on Australian Aboriginal languages. Over the past couple of years I have spent over twelve months at the Katherine Regional Aboriginal Language Centre in the Northern Territory working on a language documentation project for Wardaman. This was a community-based project which involved the production of language materials for both adults and children within the community. My work with Aboriginal languages had a more academic slant when I worked as a research assistant in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology with Prof. Francesca Merlan. This work was with Jawoyn, another language of the Katherine region of the Northern Territory, and was part of a larger language documentation project. My work involved the editing of texts and phonetic and phonological research with the aim of producing a grammatical description of the language.

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Forthcoming conferences, 2003

        July 24-29, 2003: XVII International Congress of Linguists, Prague, Czech Republic including a session on comparative linguistics organised by Professor Lyle Campbell, Department of Linguistics, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand. e-mail:

        August 11-15, 2003: The XVIth International Conference on Historical Linguistics (ICHL 2003), Copenhagen including a section on Aboriginal languages organised by William McGregor, University of Aarhus e-mail:

        August 29-30, 2003: Conference on Comparative Diachronic Syntax, University of Leiden Centre for Linguistics ( ULCL)

  • November 7-8, 2003: The Fifteenth Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, University of California at Los Angeles. Papers on any aspect of Indo-European studies: Linguistics, archaeology, comparative mythology, culture are invited. Papers on both interdisciplinary and specific topics (e.g. typology, methodology, reconstruction, the relation of Indo-European to other language groups, the interpretation of material culture, etc.) are welcome. A period of twenty minutes will be allotted for each paper, followed by a ten-minute discussion period. Abstracts must be received by June 30, 2003.

Proposal for a Workshop on Language Contact at the ALS 2003 meeting

The call is made for presenters and participants for a workshop on the theme of “Language Contact and Language Change”, to be held as part of the Australian Linguistic Society Meeting (Newcastle University, 26-28th September 2003). The workshop will be coordinated by Paul Sidwell (email:, Evershed Amuzu (email: and Pascale Jacq (email:, and a webpage ( has been set up to provide updated information about presenters and abstracts. The ALS Conference website is:

The proposal is for one or two three hour sessions (depending upon the level of interest). At each session up to six presenters will read prepared papers (20 minutes each) followed by an hour of free discussion. Presentations are sought under the following two (interconnected) themes:

1) Language contact and mechanisms of language change

2) Language contact and language change outcomes.

Please advise Paul Sidwell (via email) of your intention to present, and a title for your presentation, by 31 July, 2003 (earlier if possible).

Following the workshop presenters and participants will be invited to submit written contributions for publication in a volume of papers, to be published by the Centre for Research on Language Change (ANU), edited by the workshop coordinators.

CRLC Seminar Series 2003

We had a successful HistLing Seminar Series for 2003 during April-June. The seminar titles and abstracts are given below:

30th April: Evershed Amuzu (School of Language Studies, Arts, ANU) “Beyond surface grammatical structures: A language-production based grammatical analysis of mixed constitutents in Ewe-English Codeswitching” [Abstract]

7th May: Cynthia Allen (School of Language Studies, Arts, ANU) “Our this fascinating construction: investigating the interaction of determiners and possessives in the history of English” [Abstract]

14 May: Paul Sidwell (Department of Linguistics, RSPAS, ANU) “Looking for Su': the adventures, surprises and rewards of finding a language when you don't really know where it is, or who speaks it” [Abstract]

21st May: Andrew Pawley (Department of Linguistics, RSPAS, ANU) “Assignment of animate gender to non-human referents in English: comparative and historical notes ” [Abstract]

28th May: Harold Koch & Pascale Jacq (School of Language Studies, Arts, ANU) “Towards the reconstruction of Pama-Nyungan verb inflection” [Abstract]

4th June: Malcolm Ross (Department of Linguistics, RSPAS, ANU) “Possession in Oceanic” [Abstract]

The next series is projected for September-October 2003.

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Courses run by Department of Linguistics, School of Language Studies, ANU

Language Change and Linguistic Reconstruction (LING2005/6005) was taught in first semester by Dr. Bethwyn Evans.

Study of a Language Family (Mon-Khmer) (LING3008/6508) will be taught in second semester, 2003 by Dr. Paul Sidwell (e-mail:
The unit presents an introduction to the Austroasiatic (Mon-Khmer) language family of Southeast Asia. Topics covered will include:

  • History of Austroasiatic research
  • Classification
  • Typology
  • Comparative historical study (major emphasis)
  • Profiles and guest lectures on specific languages

Course materials will be distributed by the presenter—no prescribed text is specified.
Timetable is still to be confirmed. It is expected that lectures will be presented in one 2-hour block per week. Students taking the unit for credit may elect to have a regular tutorial, at a time to be agreed.
Auditors are encouraged to attend.

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Book Notices

This is a new feature of the Newsletter. Members and Associates are invited to submit one-paragraph book notes to bring to the attention of colleagues recently published books relevant to language change.

Andersen, Henning (ed.). 2003. Studies in Stratigraphy: Papers from the Workshop on Linguistic Stratigraphy and Prehistory at the Fifteenth International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Melbourne, 17 August 2001. (Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 239) Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Every language includes layers of lexical and grammatical elements that entered it at different times in the more or less distant past. Hence, for periods preceding our earliest historical documentation, linguistic stratigraphy—the systematic study of such layers—may yield information about the prehistory of a given tradition of speaking in a variety of ways. For instance, irregular phonological reflexes may be evidence of the convergence of diverse dialects in the formation of a language, and layers of material from different source languages may form a record of changing cultural contacts in the past. In this volume are discussed past problems and current advances in the stratigraphy of Indo-European, African, Southeast Asian, Australian, Oceanic, Japanese, and Meso-American languages. Contributions by: Henning Andersen; Karen Dakin; Anthony Diller; Bridget Drinka; Christopher Ehret; B.F.Y.P. Masele; Patrick McConvell; Bernard Mees; Derek Nurse; Hans Schmidt; Michael Smith; J. Marshall Unger. [Publisher’s blurb]

Briscoe, Ted. (ed.). Linguistic Evolution through Language Acquisition: Formal and Computational Models. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. vii+349 pages, hardbound, ISBN 0 521 66299 0. This book is really two books in one. Four chapters (WBKH) use computer simulation to demonstrate that agents with no innate syntactic structure can interact to create and preserve both the lexicon and syntax of languages over many generations. Three other chapters (NTB) base their simulations on an innate Universal Grammar—the general form of grammar is built into the agents and the lexicon is given little or no importance. All authors assume that the agents under study have a great deal of “innate” language-related structure. The “linguistic evolution” studied here is not the evolution of the capacity for language but rather the ability of a community to build on innate mechanisms to seek coherence in the encoding of meanings by strings of symbols (WBHK) or the parameter settings in their grammars (NTB). The “through language acquisition” of the title is that as each agent is added to a population it seeks to model its sample of the utterances of the existing population and in so doing changes the population profile. The language defined by the statistics of the population’s output “evolves” accordingly. [Michael Arbib]

Crowley, Terry. 2002. Serial Verbs in Oceanic: A Descriptive Typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. This volume represents a typological overview of the various kinds of serial verb constructions in Oceanic languages, while placing these constructions within the more general universal typology of verb serialisation. The discussion examines how serial verbs originate, investigating issues such as language contact and functional considerations in language change. Serial verbs are often subject to reanalysis, and this book investigates how they have d eveloped new grammatical functions in different languages. [Terry Crowley]

de Swaan, Abram. 2001. Words of the world: The global language system. Cambridge: Polity Press. [distributed by Blackwell] This book has something to say about language change in the broadest sense; it discusses the forces that influence how languages spread, contract, and disappear. Language ecology in particular parts of the world is described in terms of a “galactic model”, whereby the functions of different languages can be described in terms of their roles as peripheral, central, super-central and even hyper-central codes in a “constellation” of languages. Using concepts from political economy and political sociology, the author calculates the relative communicative potential of the languages in a given polyglossic society and uses this to show how speakers use their understanding of the relative value of languages in making choices regarding: the learning of second languages, the languages favoured for the education of their children and for official use in their state, the abandonment of heritage languages, etc. Situations described include: the European Union; post-colonial India, Indonesia, and sub-Saharan Africa; and post-Apartheid South Africa. [Harold Koch]

Dixon, R.M.W. 2002. Australian languages: Their nature and development. Cambridge University Press. Pp. xlii + 734. Hardback. In some respects this large book functions as an expanded and up-dated version of Dixon’s 1980 The languages of Australia (Cambridge UP). The book contains detailed structural information on the grammar and phonology of Australian languages, and as such is a major contribution to linguistic typology. Copious maps indicate the geographic distribution of features. Languages are referred to by a (not very reader-friendly) system of letter-plus-number labels which group languages into “sub-groups” representing areal groups and/or low-level families. In addition to typological and areal discussions, the book devotes considerable attention to presumed historical developments. Unlike the 1980 book, however, there is here no attempt to prove genetic relations or to reconstruct either Proto-Australian or lower-level proto-languages. The focus is rather on explaining shared features in terms of diffusion (here the default explanation) within linguistic areas, according to the “Punctuated Equilibrium” model put forth in Dixon 1997, The rise and fall of languages (Cambridge UP). It is argued that the unique situation of Australian languages means that the usual historical linguistic methodology and models (including family tree diagrams) are not appropriate for these languages. Many historical linguists may be unconvinced by some of the historical explanations and claims offered here. [Harold Koch]

Joseph, Brian D. and Richard D. Janda. 2003. The handbook of historical linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing ( Joseph and Janda describe the aims of a handbook as being to “sift through and sum up the received wisdom and accepted body of knowledge in a particular field” (p.125) and this book attempts to do just that for the field of historical linguistics. In their introduction Joseph and Janda discuss what is known and not known about change and time “both linguistic and otherwise” questioning some of the received views on language change and language history. The remainder of the volume comprises 25 chapters on different aspects of historical linguistics. The first five chapters, examining the major methods employed in the study of language change, including the comparative method (Rankin, Harrison) and internal reconstruction (Ringe), as well as the methods for distant genetic relationships (Campbell), are followed by 16 chapters examining change within different domains of grammar covering phonology, morphology/lexicon, syntax and pragmatics/semantics. The final four chapters are concerned with the causes of language change, including psycholinguistic (Aitchison) and contact-induced (Thomason) causes of change. This 700 page book (with 100 page bibliography) provides an introduction and summary of traditional notions of historical linguistics, as well as examining issues that have become relevant (again) more recently, and for a number of the topics covered each of the two or more papers present differing viewpoints, all of which leads to a book which is useful to both beginning and advanced students of historical linguistics. [Bethwyn Evans]

Myers-Scotton, Carol. 2002. Contact Linguistics: Bilingual Encounters and Grammatical Outcomes. Oxford University Press. With the publication of her 1993 book, Duelling Languages—Grammatical Structures in Codeswitching, Myers-Scotton’s name became almost a synonymn for her “Matrix Language Frame Model” and how it constrains intra-sentential Codeswitching (CS). This new book is an expansion of the scope of her contribution to the field of language contact research. Her basic argument is two-fold: (a) the nature of structural outcomes of a contact phenomenon may be understood properly only when the cognitive processes that operate during language production beyond the observable structures are first understood thoroughly and (b) the same cognitive and linguistic principles which constrain CS structures—and not necessarily CS itself as a mechanism—also constrain in various ways the structures of constituents that are associated with other language contact phenomena (e.g. Lexical Borrowing, Convergence, contact-induced grammatical change, Split or Mixed Languages, Pidgin & Creoles, etc). Her analyses now feature not only the Matrix Language Frame Model but also two sister models, the “Abstract Level model” and “4-M model” (i.e. model of four universal types of morphemes). It appears that in a field of study where many are still sceptical about the verifiability of cognitive linguistic processes, her extensive use of illustrations from worldwide contact data—contemporary and historical—may help attest her premises. [Evershed Kwasi Amuzu]

Rosenbach, A. 2002. Genitive variation in English: conceptual factors in synchronic and diachronic studies. Berlin and Hawthorne, N.Y.: Mouton de Gruyter. Rosenbach takes a fresh look at the factors (such as animacy and topicality) determining whether an –s genitive or an of genitive is used in Modern English, treating the s–genitive as a semantic-pragmatic anchoring device. She presents some extremely interesting results on some differences between American and British English in the use of the –s genitive. Rosenbach argues that contrary to the belief that the use of the two genitives has been settled for a long time now, changes are still underway. Of particular interest to those interested in the history of the genitive in earlier periods is the evidence which Rosenbach presents against the widely accepted view that the –s genitive steadily declined from Early Middle English until stabilizing in the 17th century. Analyzing new data from a period which has not received much attention, Rosenbach makes a convincing case that after becoming increasingly (but never completely) restricted to proper nouns and personal-noun possessors over a period of centuries, the –s genitive enjoyed a revival from the 15th century. This well-written book (originally a doctoral thesis) is a welcome addition to the study of adnominal possessives in the history of English and the discussions of grammaticalisation and the mechanisms involved in linguistic change make worthwhile reading for historical linguists who have no special interest in the history of English per se. [Cynthia Allen]

Trask, R.L. 2000. The dictionary of historical and comparative linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. This book of some 400 pages, available in a paperback edition, is a handy reference of most of the specialised terms that historical linguists are likely to come across. Items are arranged in alphabetical order and each provided with an explanation, plus in many cases one or more examples, and in some case a bibliographical reference. To illustrate the coverage, I select the letter U at random. Terms provided are not confined to the apparatus of diachronic linguistics alone (e.g. unconditioned change, univerbation, Uniformity Principle), where special attention is paid to the recent literature (e.g. Uniform Probabilities Principle from Lass 1997, Upper Exit Principle from Labov 1994), but also include: names of language families (e.g. Uralic, Uto-Aztecan), particular languages known from antiquity (e.g. Ugaritic, Umbrian), words of foreign origin used in linguistic discussion (e.g. Umgangssprache, Urheimat), terms used in the synchronic linguistics of languages that figure heavily in historical linguistics (umlaut in the Germanic languages, udatta in Sanskrit accentology), and terms used in philological studies (e.g. underdot). This is a useful handbook for any practising historical linguist—the only one of its kind. [Harold Koch]

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CRLC Advisory & Management Committee

Chair of Management Committee: Dr. Lawrence Warner, Australian Academy of the Humanities

Director: Dr. Cynthia Allen, FAHA, School of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts, ANU. e-mail:

Associate Directors:

  • Dr. Malcolm Ross, FAHA, Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, ANU
  • Associate Professor Ann Kumar, FAHA, Centre for Asian History, Faculty of Asian Studies, ANU

Other Management Committee members:

  • Dr. Harold Koch, School of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts, ANU
  • Ms. Laura Daniliuc, School of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts, ANU (Graduate Student Representative)
  • Dr. Michael Smith, Director of Research, National Museum of Australia

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[News] [Editorial] [People] [Events] [Education] [Book notices] [Committee][Webpage]

This newsletter edition was edited by Harold Koch and compiled by the Administrator, Pascale Jacq:,
Thanks go to the contributors whose names appear within the newsletter
This document was last modified:
10th June, 2003
Copyright 2003 by the Centre for Research on Language Change, ANU